Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Form over Substance

A great article by Thomas Sowell, (When does he ever not write a great one?), looking at what sells as intellectualism is most often an appearance rather than the real thing. Here's a portion:

Among the many wonders to be expected from an Obama administration, if Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times is to be believed, is ending "the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life."

He cited Adlai Stevenson, the suave and debonair governor of Illinois, who twice ran for president against Eisenhower in the 1950s, as an example of an intellectual in politics.

Intellectuals, according to Mr. Kristof, are people who are "interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity," people who "read the classics."

Adlai Stevenson was certainly regarded as an intellectual by intellectuals in the 1950s. But, half a century later, facts paint a very different picture.

Historian Michael Beschloss, among others, has noted that Stevenson "could go quite happily for months or years without picking up a book." But Stevenson had the airs of an intellectual -- the form, rather than the substance.

It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

Sowell goes on to say that Harry Truman, who was considered a country bumpkin, would read Thucydides and Cicero in Latin. So much for country bumpkin.

What makes this even more absurd is that Beschloss himself was found wanting when speaking of President elect Barak Obama's high IQ. When asked the number of his IQ, Beschloss was at a loss. He himself has fallen into the form trap.

So, what is it about the form? What makes a certain form appear intellectual, and how did it even get started? What does it bode for our society if a certain form is so misinterpreted?

No comments:

Post a Comment